Abortion bill calls for more info for moms

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2001

Doctors would not be allowed to perform abortions in Alaska unless they fully informed mothers of the risks and told them the age of the fetus, under a bill that got its first hearing Thursday.

House Bill 112, sponsored by Fairbanks Republican Rep. John Coghill, would make doctors civilly liable for violating the provisions. The so-called informed consent bill drew more opponents than supporters and did not pass out of the House Health Education and Social Services Committee.

The measure would require the state to prepare a pamphlet that objectively informs pregnant women of the health risks and psychological effects associated with abortions and carrying a baby to term. The pamphlet also would describe abortion procedures and include photographs of unborn babies at two-week intervals. The state would distribute the pamphlets on request.

Also, doctors would have to tell patients the estimated age of the fetus before an abortion and describe the risks of undergoing or not undergoing the procedure. Women would have to certify in writing the information was provided, except in medical emergencies - if the abortion was necessary to prevent death or serious risk to the mother. Doctors also would have to make sure patients knew how the abortion procedure would work.

Although he is staunchly pro life, Coghill said he introduced the bill to ensure women are fully informed, not to hinder abortions.

"This is just simply to get the best possible information for someone who's going to be considering that decision," Coghill told the committee.

But critics attacked the bill, saying doctors already inform their patients, and government shouldn't inflict extra requirements on those private conversations. Anchorage resident Deatrich Sitchler said she has hemophilia - a blood disease that could prevent her from safely delivering a baby. If she accidentally got pregnant, she probably would have to get an abortion to save herself, and the bill would just make the ordeal more painful.

"Why should extra hurdles be placed before me that are not placed before any other patient seeking any other medical treatment?" said Sitchler, adding she might not qualify as a medical emergency because a pregnancy probably would not pose an immediate threat to her life.

Eileen Becker from the Homer Crisis Pregnancy Center supported the bill, saying she's had encounters with a lot of women who aborted but were not psychologically prepared.

"I know firsthand had these women had the information this bill includes, they probably would have made some different choices," Becker said. "Perhaps the choices they would have made would have been a lot better for them."

The executive director of Alaska Right to Life also touted the bill, saying many women who abort are falsely told their fetuses are just tissue or a bunch of cells.

"This is information given when the baby already feels pain, sucks its thumb and has a heartbeat," said Karen Vosbergh, noting the bill would give women factual, unbiased information.

Juneau mother Amber Ceffalio disagreed, saying the measure would impose "mandatory anti-choice lectures" on women.

"Legislators should not single out abortions for the biased counseling requirement," said Ceffalio, facing the panel with a baby on her lap. "I urge committee members to vote against this bill. It hurts women."

Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, said he would give the public a week's notice "if and when" the bill comes up for another hearing. Coghill introduced a similar bill last session, but it died in committee.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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